SEA GAMES XVI: ‘Manila Miracle of ‘91’

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If one is to make an honest assessment of the Philippines’ hosting of the 16th Southeast Asian Games in 1991, it will show a huge plus as against a negligible demerit.

Except, for instance, for the historic EDSA revolution of 1986, never have the Filipinos been so united by a single cause than their spontaneous support to their athletes, whose quantum leap to second place overall from an unforgettable fifth place windup two years ago in Kuala Lumpur, was astounding enough.

The runner up finish behind perennial champion Indonesia proved, as in 1981 when the Games’ hosting was first awarded the country, proved once more that the Filipinos can rise from the grave in pursuit for honors and fame in international sporting battle.

Why, being able to stage the Games on schedule was a “miracle” in itself, keeping 91 gold medals, one shy of the Indons’ crown-winning 92, was a revelation. So that when the smoke of battle had been extinguished, our Southeast Asian neighbors and even the whole of Asia and the world called the event “The Manila Miracle of ’91.”


The display of immense courage and determination by no less than President Cory Aquino to push through with the hosting despite advice from her men because of economic restrictions brought about by several natural and man-made calamities that hit the country the past two years was another thing.

Would it be too much reminding everybody of the killer quake that devastated the whole of Luzon in 1990 besides spreading ash falls to many parts of the region to as far as Europe. Then the flash floods that killed thousands in Leyte two months before competitions were to commence.

The Philippines’ ability to hold the Games here was, indeed, put to severe test. But again, like in their first experience 10 years prior, the Filipinos finished the job albeit scrambling.

Workers completed refurbishing the then 67-year-old, Asia’s oldest stadium, Rizal Memorial Sports Complex, barely days before the opening ceremonies.

The Filipinos beautified their capital city and flashed their world-renowned smile to meet their guests, who, for two years running, failed to hide their skepticisms as to their hosts’ capability to make the deadline.

And to completed the “miracle,” the Filipino athletes, they who hardly enjoyed the home ground advantage due to the late completion of venues, late arrivals or lack of equipment, but egged on no end by thousands of their countrymen, who trooped to the game sites daily, watched on television and read newspaper reports, responded to the calls, winning in events they were expected to and beating their rivals in their on turfs.

Yes, the Filipinos were everywhere, from the Rizal Memorial pool, to the Ninoy Aquino Stadium. Marine Shooting Range, Folk Arts Theater, and even the hilly Antipolo cycling circuit and golf course.

Juan dela Cruz’s report card as competitor reflects high marks in 13 disciplines with swimmer Eric Buhain claiming his back-to-back “Most Outstanding Male Athlete” trophy, an award he first won two years ago.

Lydia de Vega, one of the heroes in 1981, still dominated athletics crowning herself still not only Southeast Asia’s but Asia’s “Sprint Queen.”

The Philippines reclaimed basketball supremacy from Malaysia losing in the title two years back in Kuala Lumpur. To add insult to injury, the Filipino footballers went even further by completing the 1989 hosts’ humiliation by beating them, too, in stunning 1-0 reversal, unequal yet in the biennial conclave’s annals.

The Philippines’ success in the 1991 Games was, indeed, one for the books, thanks to the country’s first Lady President, Tita Cory and to be duplicated yet by another Lady Chief Executive, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo 14 years later in 2005.

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